What the world needs now are spiritual heroes. Be they spiritual fathers or spiritual mothers, we need them. The Catholic Church has long known this and has produced spiritual fathers and mothers by the millions. We call them saints.
Besides all the famous names on the heavenly rolls like the Blessed Mother, St. Joseph, the Apostles and Martyrs, and the rest, there are millions more—unnamed and lesser saints—who started their days just like you and me. They got up in the morning and got to work.
Many of us mere mortals, while piously attempting to honor and revere saints, mistakenly see their heroic virtue as beyond our reach. Many Catholics and others put saints on pedestals in ways that leave us fretting that such sanctity is unattainable for the regular folks, the Joe and Joan Q. Public sitting in the pew.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Saints in heaven this very moment are looking at us and praying that we dispatch this silly notion, and dispel this excuse from the responsibility and, yes, the privilege, each baptized person has to grow in holiness. That is, to try to be a saint.
Let me say this as forthrightly as I can: Get a grip, People of God!
The saints began with the same raw materials we do: A sinful life in need of God and his grace. Fortunately grace is not in short supply, for where sin increases, grace abounds all the more. (Cf. Rom. 5: 20)
Speaking of spiritual fathers, it's evident our new Holy Father, Pope Francis, has captured the affection and the imagination of many in the Church and the world today. Indeed! I believe that, already, future converts are considering Catholicism for the first time, and cradle Catholics are renewing their spiritual vigor under Francis' tutelage. That's fantastic! All of us need spiritual heroes—those who can walk the talk, those who can lead us to a deeper reception of our faith in Christ, and challenge us to a new level of loving service to our world.
Despite the skepticism of so many who regularly criticize the Church and her teachings, I found it fascinating how all eyes and cameras and news organizations were trained on Rome when the white smoke poured from the chimney above the Sistine Chapel on March 13. The papal election became a worldwide media event.
Some might dismiss the elevation of a new pope as merely marking another event in history, but I see it as another chapter of His Story. This is a continuation of God's story being told here and now, and it reminds us of our need for spiritual heroes.
This pope-watching being played out in Rome demonstrates how this world is longing for, no, crying out for a spiritual father. Just as before, be it with Benedict XVI, John Paul II, or John Paul I, the influence of the Holy Father takes root in us: the pope has the power to become a credible witness, a conduit for the teachings of Christ to be poured out. This is why the pope is known as Christ's Vicar on earth. He stands as an imperfect, yet divinely chosen, spokesperson for Christ, the Christ who is One with the Father. (See Jn. 10:30.)
The Holy Father vicariously points to that hunger we have for an authentic relationship with God the Father. By getting to know his Vicar on earth, we, too, might know a bit more about the fatherly ways of God. We hunger for signs and for words, and the pope delivers both. It's up to us to receive them; to let those words and actions become part of our words and actions, just as we would a good father's legacy.
Credible witnesses force us to ponder their advice, to trust their examples so that they change us. Or they cause us to desire change, drawing us to want more of what we find so attractive in our friend, our mentor.
I spend many pages in my book, Blessed, Beautiful, and Bodacious: Celebrating the Gift of Catholic Womanhood, taking up the idea that women are called to spiritual motherhood. In fact, the bodacious mission of women is this very holy and noble calling of maternity. It comes from the very nature of womanhood, this maternal gift that is, at once, physical and spiritual.
The world longs, too, for spiritual mothers. That is why Blessed Teresa of Calcutta was considered a living saint while she was on earth, and is halfway to canonization within the Catholic Church. She, the religious sister who never bore a child, gave birth to a revolution of love in India and around the world. Mother Teresa, being the personal channel of mother-love to thousands, became the founder and Mother Superior to the Missionaries of Charity in a worldwide mission.
We miss her, don't we? But that is the point. Mother Teresa's kind of love is attractive and amazingly filled with hope and inspiration. She was a credible witness.